Animal Crossing: New Horizons finally gets an update… and paid DLC

Shortly after Animal Crossing: New Horizons launched in March last year, here’s what I had to say about the game in my review: “When I compare New Horizons to New Leaf, a game that I played way more and for way longer, I feel at least a little disappointed. New Leaf seemed to offer more to do when the shine of playing a new game wore off, and it certainly offered significantly more in terms of playing with friends…”

Many of the criticisms I made of the game – most notably the lack of a significant multiplayer offering and mini-games to play with friends – still hadn’t been addressed, and as 2021 wore on the “updates” that were released for the game were incredibly threadbare. Nintendo, in their infinite wisdom, chose to make last year’s holiday-themed updates only valid for one year, meaning much of 2021 was actually spent re-adding holiday events like Easter, Halloween, and Christmas that had already been added in 2020.

Re-adding last year’s holiday events has taken up most of 2021 for New Horizons.

The Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Direct, which premiered yesterday, had the difficult task of making amends with a fanbase that has become disenchanted with the game over the past year or so. Many of New Horizons’ biggest fans hadn’t held back from criticising the game and Nintendo for the lack of proper updates and the lack of communication in 2021, and while the game remains one of the Switch’s best-selling titles, there has been a sense for some time that a lot of folks were simply burnt out and no longer enjoying the experience.

Games have a natural lifespan, so under normal circumstances I’d say that’s just to be expected! But the Animal Crossing series has always been an outlier in that regard; the games challenge players to play long-term, even just for a few minutes a day, but the repetitiveness of the activities and dialogue, combined with no significant updates or new additions, meant New Horizons’ welcome wore out far more quickly than any previous entry in the series.

Brewster and the coffee shop are returning from past games in the Animal Crossing series.

Right off the bat, yesterday’s Nintendo Direct offered a lot of new content, and it’s coming soon – in just under three weeks’ time. The addition of a coffee shop, new islands to visit by boat, a parade of shops (on a separate island), the return of classic characters, more customisation options, more DIY options (including cooking), and an expansion of other aspects of island life, with new items, more storage space, and the like are all incredibly welcome additions. The new update will give players a lot to sink their teeth into – and will probably convince me to either pick up the island I haven’t touched in months or restart the game for a new experience.

However, I do have a few points of criticism. The first is that these updates feel, for the most part, like features that could and should have been part of the game when it arrived in 2020. New Horizons wasn’t exactly threadbare when it launched, but it was missing a number of important features that were part of older games in the series that hampered its longevity. As I’ve said on more than one occasion, New Horizons is basically a “release now, fix later” title.

Kapp’n is another returning character from past games in the series.

The second concern I have, and perhaps the most significant one, is that I don’t see these updates improving the game’s long-term prospects in any meaningful way. They’re going to be a ton of fun… at first. Players who’ve stuck with New Horizons since launch will be thrilled at finally having new things to do, and new players will discover a game that feels much more feature-rich. But when it comes to long-term playing, things like new island tours by boat or a first-person camera are going to lose their shine pretty quickly – just like terraforming and other features did when the original version of the game launched last year.

These new features paper over the cracks and don’t do anything to address New Horizons’ longstanding issues. There was no mention in the Nintendo Direct broadcast of new villager dialogue, for example, which is something the game desperately needs. Anyone who’s sunk a significant amount of time into New Horizons can tell you that villagers simply don’t have much to say after a while, and what they do say is incredibly repetitive. This also extends to Isabelle’s utterly useless “announcements” at the beginning of each day – she usually has nothing of consequence to say, has only a handful of different lines of dialogue, and ignores many goings-on around the island.

No, Isabelle… it really f**king doesn’t.

New Horizons wants to offer players a home-away-from-home on a fantastical island, and the neighbours players will have and befriend are a vital part of that experience. But because the villagers have so little to say, with some common in-game occurrences literally having only one line of dialogue, it makes playing the game feel incredibly repetitive to the point of becoming off-putting. Add into the mix that there are only eight villager “personality types” yet ten villager slots, and you’re always going to have at least two villagers who have identical dialogue even under the best possible conditions.

This was a prime candidate for an overhaul. Unlike adding new gameplay features, new dialogue requires far less development time and far fewer resources. The game’s modest file size could easily handle double the current amount of dialogue – if not more. While the addition of new features like the coffee shop will give villagers a few new things to say, at the end of the day they’re still going to largely be saying the same things that they always have. Once the novelty of some of these new features has worn off, players will be back where they started.

Failing to improve and expand villager dialogue feels like a wasted opportunity – one which seriously hampers New Horizons’ long-term prospects.

Also missing from the update were multiplayer mini-games. This is a feature I’ve argued needs to be part of New Horizons on several occasions now, and while it’s possible it will come in future as paid DLC, I don’t think that’s good enough. New Horizons currently offers incredibly bad value for players who want to play with friends – Switch Online isn’t free, after all – as there really isn’t anything substantial to do in multiplayer. Nothing in this update will change that, because players will be stuck with the same things to do as before: tour their friend’s island, talk to villagers, and that’s it.

Even some of the features that this update has added feel less than they could’ve been. The coffee shop and parade of shops are in fixed locations – in the museum or on a different island. Yet with a small amount of extra effort, surely Nintendo could’ve given players the option to place new shops and new buildings around their islands? As things sit at the moment, players have one shop, one tailor’s shop, and the museum as buildings that can be placed. Islands are decently-sized, so there was scope to add at least two or three new buildings. Giving players the option to create their own parade of shops would have been fun, and it feels like a missed opportunity that the update has added no new buildings at all.

Couldn’t some of these shops have been optional additions to a player’s island?

I’ve heard some fans argue that they’ve finished designing their island now, so they wouldn’t know where to place a new building. But that’s why something like the coffee shop could have been an option: either included as part of the museum or as a separate building like it was in New Leaf.

The main shop itself has also been ignored by the new update. New Leaf offered players five levels of shop expansion, but New Horizons only has one – and it seems like that’s all there will ever be. The shop doesn’t carry a huge amount of stock: six items at the most (if seasonal items are available). There was scope to expand the shop in the same way as the museum has been expanded, growing it to make it more useful – and to give players something to aim for and work towards.

The shop is staying in its current form.

The aforementioned parade of shops, which will be present on a separate island, could have been part of a shop expansion as well. Gardening items, different wallpapers and rugs, and other such things could have been given their own section within the shop if adding more new buildings to the island was off the table – or as an alternative option.

Kapp’n doesn’t feel like he has a lot to offer based on what we saw in the broadcast. Players have already been able to visit random islands via the airport, and adding a second way to visit a second set of random islands feels like something that will have limited use and, at least based on the way I play the game, is likely not to be used very often. Even if there are multiple new plants, shrubs, and trees, once these have been found and collected I don’t really see what else Kapp’n is going to be useful for – and this really comes back to what I was saying about the update’s longevity.

Players could already visit random islands via the airport… Kapp’n doesn’t seem to offer much that’s different.

Gyroids were never my thing in past Animal Crossing games, but they were always a part of the series so it’s nice to see them return. Brewster, the character who runs the coffee shop, was a big fan of Gyroids, so it makes sense that they’d be part of the update that brought him back. The addition of new items, new furniture, wallpapers, and the like is good, and the ability to hang items from the ceiling is likewise an extra dimension to customisation. None of that will be earth-shattering, but I love a game with customisation options, so adding more ways to customise and to make the island and player’s home feel unique is certainly a good thing.

The addition of town ordinances, which were present in New Leaf, will change things up a little and improve the quality-of-life for some players. Being able to shift the island’s activity to earlier or later in the day should allow some players with tight schedules the ability to play more at a more convenient time, and that’s a positive thing. Again, though, I feel like this should really have been part of the game from the beginning – it was part of New Leaf in 2013, so it can hardly be called a “new” feature.

Ordinances return from New Leaf.

Perhaps the one addition that interested me the most was the DIY expansion, particularly cooking. The addition of new vegetables and new crops seems to have opened up a range of new DIY recipes for food – and this looks like something that has the potential to be a lot of fun. New Horizons does have a number of food items already, but adding new ones and different ones that can be created is certainly something I find interesting.

DIY has been a double-edged sword in New Horizons sometimes, though. Item durability – a feature copied from the likes of Minecraft – is almost never handled well in any game, and it doesn’t work well in New Horizons. Having to constantly replace broken tools rapidly stops being fun – if it was ever fun – and the fact that DIY doesn’t work particularly well or especially intuitively has hampered the experience. For example, being able to craft more than one item at a time – particularly for one-time use items like fish bait – would massively improve the experience, as would the ability to craft tools in one step instead of two. Neither of these quality-of-life improvements has been added to New Horizons.

Being able to cook different dishes seems like a fun feature – and something actually new!

The addition of a first-person photo mode looks like fun, but the kind of gimmicky fun that I might use a few times at the most. New hairstyles might be fun for some people – and being able to represent different types of hair in a game is no bad thing. More K.K. Slider songs might be your thing… but it’s definitely not mine!

Being able to set up ladders at particular cliffs is something I can see being useful, even as the number of available inclines is slightly expanded. Also allowing players to navigate smaller gaps in between furniture is likewise something that will be useful in certain circumstances. I wouldn’t say that either are groundbreaking, but smaller quality-of-life improvements like these were definitely needed.

The ability to permanently set up ladders is a small addition, but a decent one.

So let’s talk about money. Everything we’ve discussed so far will be added for free, and that’s no bad thing. New Horizons did promise free updates when it launched. But this update will be the last free one for New Horizons, and the first paid DLC has already been announced.

Considering that there are still missing features, and that some quality-of-life additions, like new dialogue and improvements to crafting, haven’t been made, I can’t be the only one who feels it’s rather bold of Nintendo to begin demanding $25 for an expansion to the game – especially considering the expansion is based on 3DS title Happy Home Designer, and thus is hardly something we can call “new.”

New Horizons is getting its first paid DLC.

It also means that multiplayer mini-games – if they ever come to New Horizons, and it would be such a shame if they didn’t – will now almost certainly be paid DLC as well. The Happy Home Paradise DLC seems like it could be the first of many, and next year could see at least one or two more paid DLC packs as well – which would greatly increase the cost of playing New Horizons in full.

Happy Home Paradise looks like an updated riff on the Happy Home Designer concept. It does add new things, like partition walls, countertops, and so on, some of which can be brought to a player’s main island home as well. I’m not going to argue that Happy Home Paradise should’ve been free – though it absolutely could have been if Nintendo was a more customer-friendly company – but I’m not sure the timing is right considering that the base game will still be missing key features even after this latest – and final – update.

One of the features present in the DLC pack is the ability to build partition walls.

Version 2.0, which will be the final free update for New Horizons, still doesn’t get it over the line. The game is still going to be missing important features that previous entries in the series had. Some of these features – like multiplayer mini-games – gave the Animal Crossing series much of its long-term value, and without them it’s hard to see New Horizons being a game that will live up to the legacy of its predecessors. Don’t get me wrong, practically all of the additions and updates look like fun… but they look like short-term fun at best.

In addition, the game’s final update will do nothing to address player criticisms and complaints about a number of quality-of-life issues, some of which are pretty major. The lack of expanded dialogue for villagers, the lack of fixes for basic DIY issues, and a number of other points have all been ignored by Nintendo in their rush to blitz through New Horizons’ free updates so they could begin selling paid DLC. As a result, New Horizons in its base form is still not good enough for the kind of game it wants to be – and even the addition of this first paid expansion pack won’t address these concerns.

Adding a coffee shop doesn’t fix what’s fundamentally missing from New Horizons.

There are things to look forward to on the fifth of November, and I’m debating whether to jump back into the game or even start a new file in the run-up to the update going live. However, I’m already predicting that many of the new features added into the game will have a relatively short shelf-life, and while they may very well carry New Horizons into the beginning of 2022, the game’s longer-term prospects are still pretty poor.

I judge New Horizons based on how much I enjoyed its predecessor, New Leaf. I played that game on and off for more than seven years because it just had so much to offer and so much going on to convince me to keep coming back. I got bored of New Horizons within a couple of months, and while two months and 100+ hours is definitely a lot of time when compared to many other games, by Animal Crossing standards that’s nothing. Unfortunately everything I’ve seen from this update, and its paid DLC companion, tells me that New Horizons is going to get a short-term fix that will tide fans over for a little while but ultimately does nothing to address the game’s real longevity.

Maybe I’m the one who’s wrong – maybe New Horizons was never meant to be the kind of long-term project that its predecessors were. Perhaps gaming has just changed too much in the past decade or so such that a long-term experience was never something that most players were interested in. If that’s the case then I’m judging New Horizons unfairly. Maybe it was just never meant to be the long-term experience that I expected.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons is out now for Nintendo Switch. Version 2.0 will launch on the 5th of November 2021 as a free update, and Happy Home Paradise will launch also on the 5th of November 2021 as paid DLC. Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

The OLED Nintendo Switch disappoints fans… good.

Just to clarify: I don’t want to revel in someone’s disappointment. There are valid reasons to look forward to a brand-new Nintendo console and all of the improvements that such a device could bring to upcoming games. But I was very pleased to see that the rumours about an impending “Nintendo Switch Pro” have come to naught on this occasion.

There’s a moral to this story, one which we all need to be aware of in the age of the internet: don’t believe everything you read! Not long ago I talked about how a single Twitter post sent the online Star Trek fandom into a spiral of clickbaity articles promising the return of a major character, and in this case it seems that unspecified, unsourced, anonymous “rumours” led many Nintendo fans and commentators to expect the imminent announcement of a brand-new console.

The Switch OLED version has led some fans to feel disappointed – they were hoping for something more.

It’s incredibly easy to start a rumour. Sign up for an account on a popular forum, post your bullshit, claim to have “sources” close to the company or production concerned, and Bob’s your uncle. Rumour started. Watch with glee as the internet goes wild for whatever nonsense you’ve decided to peddle. I can’t count the number of articles I’ve seen that were kicked off by these so-called “leaks,” including about major games like Grand Theft Auto 6, huge films like Star Wars Episode VIII, and many more besides. Practically all of them turned out to be completely wrong, and those few that got something right seem to have done so more by chance than because of anything legitimate.

In short, don’t believe rumours that you read on the internet, especially those which concern the games industry. Even if you read something in the mainstream games press, on a usually-reliable website, or even see something on a YouTube channel with multiple millions of subscribers, it could all be based on nonsense. Check the sources of whatever publication or outlet is reporting these rumours. Where did they get it from? If it’s an “anonymous leak” or the publication refuses to say where the rumour comes from, it should be dismissed out of hand. I’ve said on more than one occasion here on the website that I’d rather not discuss a story that turns out to be true instead of jump in and comment on every non-event sparked by one of these ridiculous anonymous posts.

Any idiot with an internet connection can start a rumour.

Obviously the reason we’re talking about all of this is because Nintendo has finally revealed to the world the latest iteration of their Nintendo Switch console, and after months of rumours that a brand-new machine was in the offing, a lot of Nintendo superfans are feeling disappointed.

The Nintendo Switch is barely four years old, having been launched in March 2017. Though early console generations could be relatively short, for the past several generations we’ve seen double that – there were eight years between the launch of the PlayStation 4 and the PlayStation 5, for example. It’s not good business sense for Nintendo to launch a completely new console this soon after the Switch’s launch; doing so would leave the millions of players who’ve only just bought one feeling like they made a mistake, and would sour Nintendo’s carefully-constructed brand.

The rumoured Switch Pro was alleged to be a machine which would have had its own exclusive games; titles which wouldn’t work on the original 2017 Switch or the Switch Lite, and this horrible naming confusion would have made the Xbox Series X and Wii U debacles look positively genius by comparison.

The rumoured “Switch Pro” has failed to materialise.

So I’m glad that the Switch OLED has turned out to be a bag of nothing; a minor upgrade with a shiny new screen, better stand, and not a lot else to offer. When one of the biggest features Nintendo can brag about in the new device’s marketing is that the dock is a different colour, you know there’s not much worth talking about!

The Switch still has years’ worth of life left in it. It’s not impossible to think it could pass the decade mark and run alongside the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X for the entirety of this generation. Its limited internal hardware will mean that ports of brand-new games will become difficult to impossible, but as game streaming rises to become a big deal in the industry, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility to see a “Switch Streaming” app sometime soon that would allow players to stream games to their console that otherwise wouldn’t work. Developing something like that seems like a far better use of Nintendo’s time than making a Switch Pro.

The Switch is barely four years old – there’s plenty of life left in it yet!

Nintendo is uniquely positioned in the video game marketplace. Not only does the Switch offer Nintendo’s own, generally high-quality titles from Animal Crossing: New Horizons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but it also allows players to take all kinds of games with them on the go. The unique selling point of the console has proven to be wildly popular with gamers of all stripes, and ditching it or mothballing it in favour of a new project would be a wasted opportunity. The Switch has already sold over 85 million units in just four years – and is already hot on the heels of the Wii, which sold just over 100 million. It’s not a stretch to think that the Switch could literally become the best-selling console ever, stealing the crown currently held by the PlayStation 2.

So it’s absolutely appropriate for Nintendo to continue to invest in the Switch. This latest iteration is just that: an iteration. A minor adjustment of the Switch to appeal to new fans and perhaps to convince some folks to upgrade to get the shinier screen. The Switch’s future success will be built on games, though, and I’m sure Nintendo has plenty of ideas in the pipeline there as well.

A sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is coming soon.

It’s also worth mentioning the very rocky launch that both the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X have endured, with shortages of key components leading to far fewer consoles being available. Even now, eight months later, tracking down a console at its recommended retail price is still difficult, and in some parts of the world is completely impossible. Any new Nintendo console would face similar issues, and with the shortage of components not looking like it’s going to ease up any time soon, such a device would have had a rough launch.

I’m sorry if you feel disappointed that there isn’t going to be a new Nintendo console this year, but in my opinion it’s for the best. There are some great positive reasons to stick with the Switch family of systems instead of trying to pre-emptively create something new, and there are plenty of negative reasons that should tell any wannabe-manufacturer that now is not a great time to consider launching new hardware. As I said at the beginning, rumours and leaks don’t mean anything. In 2021, with so much junk flying around online, unless something is outright confirmed by an official source it should always be looked at with a healthy degree of scepticism.

So I think this was the right call by Nintendo, and I hope they plan on sticking with the Switch beyond 2021 as well. There are some great Switch games out already, and I have no doubt that there are many more to come.

The Nintendo Switch and all other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Ten racetrack theme ideas for Mario Kart 9

With Nintendo planning a digital presentation for next month’s Electronic Entertainment Expo – more commonly known as E3 – rumours abound as to what they could talk about. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild 2? A new 3D Mario game? A new Donkey Kong title? Those are all contenders, and I would posit that Nintendo would be unlikely to put out a major E3 broadcast unless they had something big to say! But there’s still the prospect of a new Mario Kart game – something I’ve discussed on a couple of occasions already.

Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES in 1992, which means that next year will be the Mario Kart series’ 30th anniversary. In recent years we’ve seen a number of anniversary-themed events from Nintendo, and I can’t help but feel that they’ll do something to acknowledge Mario Kart. E3 would be the ideal time to announce Mario Kart 9, then, in time for the title to be released in the first half of next year!

Super Mario Kart turns 30 next year!

Maybe I’m wrong about that, though – and as I always like to say, I have no “insider information!” But regardless, it’s always fun to talk about the Mario Kart series and the prospects for a new title. Having already talked about a number of older racetracks I’d like to see come back, a roster of Nintendo characters who could be drivers, and even a handful of non-Nintendo characters who could join the fun, this time I want to talk about the possibilities for new racetracks – specifically, what theming Nintendo could use.

Past Mario Kart games had a number of Nintendo-themed tracks – such as Royal Raceway, based around Princess Peach’s castle, DK Mountain, which obviously pays homage to the jungle home of Donkey Kong, and of course the Bowser Castle tracks. But many Mario Kart titles also had more generic or non-Nintendo tracks too – things like Vanilla Lake, Choco Island, Sweet Sweet Canyon, and even Rainbow Road are all based less on specific Nintendo properties than just generic theming. My list will include a mix of both kinds of racetrack!

So let’s take a look, shall we?

Number 1: The museum from Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The upgraded museum as it appears in New Horizons.

A racetrack based around Animal Crossing: New Horizons seems like a given considering how popular the game has been since it launched! But rather than a generic island – or perhaps as well as one – I think a racetrack themed around New Horizons’ museum could be neat. I do still check in with my New Horizons island from time to time, partly because I still haven’t collected every last bug, fish, fossil and work of art! The museum is one of the game’s most interesting locations, and would make a fun setting for a racetrack.

Starting in the lobby, players would race through four areas: the bug room, fossil exhibit, art gallery, and aquarium. The aquarium offers the potential for underwater racing – if that feature is coming back in Mario Kart 9 – so there’d be at least two terrains as well as a variety of scenery! The higher levels of the museum would also offer space for jumps and tricks. But above all, it would be a different take on the expected “Animal Crossing island” track that I think would take a lot of folks by surprise.

Number 2: The Last Resort hotel from Luigi’s Mansion 3

The Last Resort hotel is the setting for Luigi’s Mansion 3.

I know, I know. My playthrough of Luigi’s Mansion 3, which I commenced in the run-up to last Halloween, still needs to be finished. And I will get around to it eventually! But for now, let’s consider how The Last Resort hotel could make for an amazing racetrack! The Mario Kart series has never shied away from spooky, ghostly racetracks, and given the popularity of Luigi’s Mansion 3 on Switch, incorporating it into Mario Kart 9 makes a lot of sense.

Players could start in the basement garage and race to the top in a one-way route broken into three segments. That would put a twist on several of the similar one-way downhill tracks in Mario Kart 8! Ghostly apparitions could make for interesting moving obstacles, and above all, the track would have the potential to be a lot of fun. There could certainly be jumps or aerial sections, though I’m not sure about racing underwater.

Number 3: A track based on the world of Minecraft

Promo screenshot for Minecraft.

This kind of ties into my idea of having Minecraft Steve as a playable racer! Minecraft has been popular on the Nintendo Switch – just as it has been on practically every other console – and considering that Nintendo and Microsoft have happily worked together to bring Minecraft Steve into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, why not go one step further and have a Minecraft-themed racetrack?

The open worlds of Minecraft have a multitude of biomes and terrains, and there’s scope for anti-gravity racing up cliffs or down deep caverns, underwater sections through seas and rivers, aerial sections jumping off mountains or into the sky – and that’s before we even get to the Nether or the End! There could even be a Minecraft cup with four racetracks based around this game – though maybe that’s a bit much!

Number 4: Bubblaine from Super Mario Odyssey

Remember when the internet went wild for Mario’s nipples? We live in strange times…

There’s bound to be at least one racetrack based on a location from Super Mario Odyssey in the next Mario Kart title, so I’d like to propose Bubblaine! The Mario Kart series has previously featured a number of beach-themed tracks, but this would be the first to be based on an actual level from a mainline game. There’s even the possibility for a track based on Bubblaine – or the other water level from Odyssey, Lake Lamode – to be fully underwater, with no above-water sections at all. That could make for an interesting twist!

I like beach-themed racetracks in Mario Kart. They’re relaxing and often have great music, and though Bubblaine wouldn’t necessarily be unique in the Mario Kart series, it could pick up the baton for beach racetracks.

Number 5: New Donk City from Super Mario Odyssey

New Donk City is home to Mayor Pauline!

New Donk City played a big role in the marketing campaign for Odyssey, and it seems at least possible that Nintendo would want to capitalise on the name and imagery for Mario Kart 9 as well. There have been urban racetracks in the Mario Kart series before but none quite like New Donk City.

Just like how street circuits like Monaco or Singapore are popular in Formula 1, the closed-in nature of New Donk City’s network of roads could make for a fun racetrack. With tall buildings to potentially jump from, and Mayor Pauline’s iconic song forming the basis for the soundtrack, this one has a lot of potential to be a fun – if slightly tricky – racetrack!

Number 6: The Galar Region from Pokémon Sword & Shield

A promo screenshot of a city in the Galar Region.

I’ve never played a Pokémon game. Make of that what you will! But Pokémon Sword & Shield have been successful on the Nintendo Switch – despite the so-called “Dexit” controversy the games generated! Although Pokémon has always been a franchise strongly associated with Nintendo, no Pokémon characters or locales have appeared in the Mario Kart series – at least, not yet.

I don’t know too much about the Galar Region other than it’s based on my native United Kingdom, but that in itself could make for a fun concept for British Nintendo fans! There have been some Pokémon characters included in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, so it’s not impossible to think that a crossover between two of Nintendo’s biggest exclusive properties is on the cards.

Number 7: The city of Kyoto, Japan

A dark street in the city of Kyoto.

Now we’re leaving the realm of video games behind to look at some racetrack themes from the real world. Kyoto – which was the capital city of Japan for more than 1,000 years before it moved to Tokyo – is where Nintendo is headquartered. Many of the company’s developers live and work in the city, and know it intimately. It could be a lot of fun for them – and for us as players – to bring the city to life as the basis of a racetrack.

A Japanese-themed racetrack is a win-win for any Mario Kart title in many ways. The game’s Japanese audience would be pleased to see a representation of their home, and there are many in the west who love all things Japanese and would be equally thrilled. Kyoto makes a lot of sense because of its connection to Nintendo, and we could see recreations of famous landmarks like the Imperial Palace, To-Ji Temple, Kyoto Tower, and Teramachi Street.

Number 8: A food-themed racetrack

Looks yummy!

Choco Island and Choco Mountain, which appeared in Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64 respectively, kicked off a trend of Nintendo including at least one racetrack with a food theme in most mainline Mario Kart games. In addition to chocolate we’ve had the likes of Cheese Land and Sweet Sweet Canyon. It would be great to keep this trend going with another foody track, perhaps one based around Japanese cuisine?

A restaurant could make for a fun setting, and would allow shrunk-down racers to drive through the kitchen, into the dining room, across tabletops, past plates of food, and so on. Mario Kart has always been a series which is happy to set logic aside when it comes to theming, so why not?

Number 9: Ice or a glacier

Ice and snow have appeared a lot in Mario Kart.

There have been plenty of snow- and ice-themed tracks in past Mario Kart games, and I’m sure the next entry in the series will bring at least one to the table. There’s scope for a track set on a glacier to have an environmental theme, especially if the glacier were melting! Perhaps each lap could see more and more of the glacier melt away, until the final lap has players racing through a track that’s more water than ice.

Regardless, snow and ice are tricky surfaces to race on, and can be made to feel extra slippery under the wheels of players’ karts. This alone makes them fun and challenging in equal measure, and I hope there’ll be at least one track with this kind of icy, wintry theme in Mario Kart 9.

Number 10: An alpine or mountain stage

A picture-perfect Alpine village and lake.

The famous cycling races Tour de France and Giro d’Italia both run stages through the Alps, and it’s something along those lines that I’m thinking of here. Mountainous racetracks in Mario Kart tend to either be snowy or have some other theming, but I quite like the idea of racing along past a mountain village, pine trees, and the like, in a track with an alpine setting.

The Alps border several countries, including France, Switzerland, Italy, and Austria, so elements from those cultures could be incorporated into the theming of the track. This could also be a one-way track divided into segments instead of a loop to run laps around.

So that’s it. Ten theme ideas for Mario Kart 9 racetracks!

Still the best version of Rainbow Road… change my mind!

Because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is just a port of a Wii U game, there hasn’t been an original Mario Kart title released for the Nintendo Switch yet. I know that’s kind of splitting hairs, but it provides a small amount of hope that we’ll see another title in the fun kart racing series before this generation is over. The Switch should still have several years’ of life left, so if we don’t get Mario Kart 9 this generation it could be a while before we see it.

I’m hopeful, then, of a new Mario Kart game sometime soon. Whether it will be announced at E3, or whether it will be connected to the 30th anniversary of the series are just guesses on my part – but I think both are educated guesses. It makes sense to me, at any rate!

Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is out now on Nintendo Switch. All other titles and properties mentioned above are copyright of Nintendo or their respective studio, developer, publisher, and/or owner. Some screenshots and promo artwork courtesy of the Mario Wiki. Some stock images courtesy of Pixabay. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is the Mario anniversary game I should’ve bought!

Nintendo showed off two big projects last year to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise: Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. Perhaps pushed by the awful forced scarcity of Super Mario 3D All-Stars – which was removed from sale arbitrarily last month – but also excited at the prospect of replaying Super Mario 64, that was the game I picked up on release day. And it was an underwhelming experience; £50 not particularly well-spent.

Don’t get me wrong, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is okay, and for someone who’s never played any of the games included I could recommend it under some circumstances. All three games work, and there have been some very minor improvements to the way Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy look. But that’s all you got for £50 – three games, the newest of which is from 2007, slightly tweaked. Super Mario 64, one of my favourite games of all time and the title I was most excited to replay, looks pretty crappy in the 3D All-Stars collection, with a strange frame resolution that leaves black bars around all four sides of the screen. They couldn’t even get it to fit the screen top to bottom! Even an emulator can manage that!

The pretty crappy way Super Mario 64 looks in the 3D All-Stars collection is disappointing and a little offputting.

So I was unimpressed with the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection, and it’s the one game in the last couple of years that I genuinely regret purchasing. I broke my own rule about day-one purchases, and picked it up without waiting to see any reviews or gameplay assuming that Super Mario 64 alone would make it worthwhile. Given that the version of Super Mario 64 is itself underwhelming, the entire collection felt disappointing and was certainly very overpriced.

The other Mario game announced for the 35th anniversary was Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury. 3D World had been a Wii U title, so this is a port, but Bowser’s Fury is entirely new. Even though it’s been out for a couple of months now I avoided picking it up. I don’t have an unlimited budget for video games – or anything else, come to that – and after my recent disappointing experience with Super Mario 3D All-Stars I was not overly keen on spending more money on another Mario title. But earlier this week I got a reasonable deal on a second-hand copy and decided to give it a shot.

Cat Mario is just too cute!

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is unquestionably the title I should’ve picked up instead of Super Mario 3D All-Stars. It’s superior in practically every respect. The Wii U gameplay has been perfectly ported to the Switch, and while it perhaps doesn’t look quite as shiny as Super Mario Odyssey, it’s a perfectly acceptable 3D platformer with a cute Mario aesthetic that matches the rest of the franchise. And the cat costumes are just so adorable – I’m a cat owner (I have four) and I love practically anything cat-themed!

Bowser’s Fury is a brand-new mode made for the Switch. To call it a “mode” is a bit uncharitable, as Bowser’s Fury could just as easily be a standalone game in its own right. Perhaps not a full-priced one, as it’s relatively short, but it easily stands up against other Switch titles in terms of how much fun it is to play. The new addition adds a lot to Super Mario 3D World, elevating the experience of the original Wii U title. And it’s fair to say that, without Bowser’s Fury, Super Mario 3D World on its own would be a harder sell – especially for someone like me who’s already played it.

Bowser doesn’t look happy…

Gameplay-wise, Nintendo’s expected high quality is present, with no major bugs, glitches, or crashes getting in the way. And I’m having fun playing Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, which I really haven’t been able to say about the Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection.

Nintendo have had some great successes since the Switch launched in 2017. It seems clear to me, though, that the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise was originally supposed to be bigger. Bowser’s Fury is really the only new game that’s been part of the celebration, and while we know that Nintendo suffered a lot of production delays due to the pandemic, that doesn’t account for all of it. Super Mario 3D All-Stars felt rushed; a collection cobbled together at the last minute perhaps because Bowser’s Fury wasn’t ready.

Promo screenshot for Bowser’s Fury.

Unfortunately, talk of a new or updated “Switch Pro” is hanging over Nintendo at the moment. Having ported over the main Mario games present on the Wii U, now could have been the time for the company to build on the successes of Super Mario Odyssey and now Bowser’s Fury, launching new titles in the franchise. With the 30th anniversary of Mario Kart coming next year, perhaps a new title in that series could be in the offing. But this rumour of a potential new console needs to be cleared up as soon as possible – fans need to know what they can expect from Nintendo in the short-to-medium term.

Bowser’s Fury takes advantage of the Switch’s hardware to do things that Super Mario 3D World couldn’t have managed on the Wii U. And that offers a pathway forward; an opportunity to build on its successes and develop new titles in the series for the current console. With the number of units sold rapidly approaching the numbers Nintendo saw with the Wii, shifting focus to new hardware now seems positively stupid. The Switch easily has four or five years’ of life left in it at the very least, and there should be many more games in the vein of Bowser’s Fury to come. I hope this talk of a new console or a variant which will have exclusive titles can be put to bed ASAP so Nintendo fans can focus on enjoying the current system to its fullest.

Cat Peach, Toad, Mario, and Cat Luigi.

For my money, Bowser’s Fury makes Super Mario 3D World worth the buy. If you weren’t one of the nine people besides me who owned a Wii U a few years ago, the base game is also great and will be new to you as well. On its own, Super Mario 3D World isn’t as good as Super Mario Odyssey, but it’s a solid title in its own right. The cat suits which are the game’s big new feature are more than just a visual gimmick, as the power-up they offer does change the way Mario (and the other characters) interact with the game world.

I don’t have any friends to sit down with on the couch and play Super Mario 3D World with. Wait, that sounds sad! What I mean is that the game offers a multiplayer mode for up to four players, and while I haven’t been able to take advantage of that for myself, if you have people to play with, you’ll get a classic-feeling Super Mario experience that can be enjoyed together.

I was left disappointed last year with Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Nintendo’s anniversary of the Super Mario series. But it turns out that I just bought the wrong game. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury is an appropriate celebration of Nintendo’s mascot and his 35th birthday, and I’m glad to have picked it up.

Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury was developed and published by Nintendo and is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Super Mario franchise – including all titles mentioned above – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

For the love of God, don’t call it the “Switch Pro”

What is it with major games companies giving their flagship home consoles awful names? The name of the Xbox Series X was so confusing that on the day the console became available to pre-order, sales of the previous generation model Xbox One X skyrocketed. Many consumers will have been surprised when they ended up with the wrong machine!

Nintendo is no stranger to awful names. After the success of the Wii in the late 2000s, Nintendo wanted to keep the brand name going and launched the Wii U. But due to a combination of poor marketing and the confusing name, many consumers didn’t even realise that the Wii U was a new console, instead assuming that its tablet-controller was some kind of overpriced accessory for the original Wii.

Having been in this position once before, and having seen the reaction to Microsoft’s awful naming schemes, you’d think Nintendo would know better than to release a new console called the “Switch Pro.” But if rumours are to be believed, that is exactly what they plan to do.

Has Nintendo learned nothing from the Wii U?

Here’s the fundamental flaw in that approach: it’s the Wii U problem all over again. What is a Switch Pro? Is it like a PlayStation 4 Pro or iPhone 12 Pro – the same basic machine, running the same software and games, but with a bit of extra power to make those games look better? Or is it a whole new system which will run its own exclusive software that won’t work on the original Switch? Can you figure it out? Because I can’t.

I used to work in the video games industry. I spent several years with a large games company and I’ve done freelance work for a few others. If I, as a former industry insider and someone who knows a fair amount about gaming, can’t tell what a Switch Pro is supposed to be, what hope does the average consumer have?

Not only are Nintendo potentially risking a repeat of the Wii U fiasco, with the console failing to sell due to its confusing name, but they also risk upsetting existing Switch owners if there are going to be Switch Pro-exclusive titles. Imagine the disappointment of buying a game you believe will work on your Switch only to find the console you paid £200-300 for won’t run the game. Cue angry letters from members of the public, parents, and irate gamers.

The Nintendo Switch was released in 2017.

The name “Switch” is no more of a brand than “Wii” was in 2012. What people look for are the big names: Xbox, PlayStation, and of course Nintendo. The Nintendo Switch is its own thing, and Nintendo’s next console will need a new name to give itself a new identity – it can’t recycle the “Switch” branding because that’s inextricably tied to the current console and lineup of games. When there has already been the handheld-only Switch Lite, there will be an expectation from the public that a “Switch Pro” will simply be another variant – not a wholly new console.

That’s before we even get into the frankly rather troubling idea of Nintendo talking about launching a new console while the current machine is less than four years old. The past couple of console generations have been twice as long, and there’s a reasonable expectation when buying a new console that it will have a decent lifespan. Especially in the current climate, with all kinds of uncertainty hanging over people’s jobs and economic futures, it isn’t a great time to launch a new console.

Nintendo screwed up with the Wii U in 2012, and the release of the Switch less than five years later was a response to that colossal mistake. But with the Switch doing phenomenally well and with plenty of games either already out or coming up in the next few months, there’s no need for another machine at this stage. Some newer titles that are popular on other platforms – like Cyberpunk 2077, for example – won’t be able to be ported to the Switch because it’s a less-powerful device. But that didn’t stop people continuing to enjoy the Wii, and even when the Switch launched it wasn’t going toe-to-toe with the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, yet it outsold the Xbox One in less than four years and is on course to catch up to the PlayStation 4.

There are still some great games to come for the Switch.

There’s a lot to be said for being patient and reaping the rewards of the incredibly-successful Switch. Players of all ages and skill levels have responded very positively to this hybrid machine, and while any company in the games industry needs to have an eye on the future, I’d argue that now is not the time. Even Xbox and PlayStation could’ve squeezed another year or two out of their last-gen machines instead of rushing ahead with the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 launches a couple of months ago.

But we’ve drifted off-topic. The “Switch Pro” is a terrible name for a new console, one which will confuse a lot of parents and players, and end up upsetting people when they don’t get what they expected. If the Switch is coming to the end of its life – which it shouldn’t be, but we all know that Nintendo loves to artificially mess with these things – then a new console needs a new name.

Let’s not repeat the mistakes made by the Wii U and Xbox Series X!

Switch, Wii, Wii U, and other properties mentioned above are the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Games of the Generation

Spoiler Warning: There are minor spoilers ahead for the titles on this list.

The launch of the Xbox Series X earlier today marked the beginning of a new console generation – and thus the end of one too. That generation began in November 2012 with the release of the Wii U, and saw both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 arrive a year later. I’ve been incredibly fortunate over the last eight years to have played a number of different games across all four major consoles, and while I need to say for the record that there are still plenty of big titles I haven’t got my hands on, there’s certainly enough to put together a list like this.

As we say goodbye to the current generation of consoles and jump headfirst into next-gen, let’s take a few minutes to look back at some of the best gaming experiences of the generation… in my subjective opinion!

But before we dive into the list, here’s a short recap of each of the major consoles. The Wii U came first, but was blighted by horrible marketing (even months after release, many gamers were confused as to what the Wii U even was, with many believing its clunky plastic controller to be nothing more than an accessory for the Wii). Nintendo began making losses during this period, and even laid off a number of staff. The console saw some very fun games, but I was one of less than fifteen million people who bought the machine – which in 2012 was clearly not good enough to cover Nintendo’s costs – making the console an expensive failure. For the sake of comparison, the original Wii sold over 100 million consoles, and the Switch is currently sitting at over 60 million a mere three years after release.

The Wii U kicked off this generation in November 2012, but was unsuccessful overall.

Next came the PlayStation 4. Only a few months earlier I’d bought a PlayStation 3, the first Sony machine I’d ever owned. I’d done so solely to play The Last Of Us, and I wasn’t disappointed! After the Xbox One suffered a rocky run-up to launch (we’ll come to that in a moment) PlayStation seized the chance to convert gamers to their platform after running behind for the entirety of the previous generation. And many folks who had previously been invested in Xbox made the switch – PlayStation 4 has almost certainly sold twice as many units as Xbox One, and that couldn’t have happened without Xbox 360 players jumping ship. PlayStation 4 has also had by far the better crop of exclusive games, and that’s another huge factor in its success this generation.

The PlayStation 4 arrived in November 2013 and has been the generation’s best-seller by far.

Xbox One arrived only a week after the launch of the PlayStation 4, but it was not a smooth road for Microsoft’s console. From the moment the console was announced it attracted the ire of gamers. First was its complicated always-online nature, which Microsoft had to backtrack on. Next was the issue of trading in games or sharing them with friends, with Xbox initially seeming to “lock” each disc to a specific user account. This was also something Microsoft U-turned on. Those fiascos were bad enough, but next came Kinect. Bundled with the system – and with no way to opt out – Kinect bumped up the price of the Xbox One at launch, making it $100 more than PlayStation 4. Looking back over several console generations, the cheaper machine usually sells better, and so it proved again. Xbox One also struggled with a lack of decent exclusive games to compete with those available on the PlayStation 4. Despite all of that, however, Xbox Game Pass (a paid subscription service which gives players access to over a hundred titles) definitely found a foothold as the generation drew to a close.

The Xbox One launched a week after the PlayStation 4 – for $100 more.

Finally, 2017 saw the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Where the Wii U had been Nintendo’s attempt to recapture the “hardcore gamer” market, the Switch saw Nintendo realise that its success with consoles like the Wii and the handheld DS and 3DS lineup was due to their appeal to casual players. A console deliberately less powerful than its two competitors, the Switch retained the motion controls that had proven popular on the Wii alongside a new gimmick: the console is a hybrid that can either be played as a handheld device or connected to a screen. After the disappointment of the Wii U, the Switch proved a success from day one, and eclipsed the Wii U’s total lifetime sales in a matter of months.

The Nintendo Switch is the newest major console, having been released in 2017.

So those were this generation’s consoles. Now let’s look at some games!

This list is in three parts. The first part consists of titles that I consider to be incredibly important to the overall gaming landscape of the generation, even if they weren’t “my thing” and/or I don’t have much personal experience with them. The second part of the list contains a handful of titles that failed hard, and whose failures had an impact on gaming in some way. And finally the third part of the list is what you’re all here for – my personal top ten games of the generation.

Without any further ado, let’s get started!

Honourable Mentions

As stated above, this section of the list consists of a few titles that, for whatever reason, weren’t necessarily something I enjoyed or bought into, yet were landmarks in gaming this generation. No “games of the generation” list would be complete without their inclusion.

Number 1: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (2017)

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds – or “Pub-G” as some insist on calling it – was the first truly successful battle royale game. There’s debate over the origins of battle royale, and at one point PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds attempted to patent the format, but there can be no denying that this is the game that brought it to mainstream attention. By doing so it revolutionised online multiplayer gaming, and for a while was the most-played game in the world.

Considering how big battle royale titles still are, no end-of-the-generation list would be complete without PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though the game is still being played, it has arguably been eclipsed by some other titles in the genre it spawned – most notably Fortnite. In that sense it’s one of the most influential games of the generation… even if it isn’t one that’s enjoyed as much ongoing success.

Number 2: Fortnite (2018)

If PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds kicked off the battle royale craze, Fortnite took it to the next level. This title became a powerhouse in the gaming world; a phenomenon the industry hadn’t seen since Minecraft. And it’s a free-to-play game. Many of Fortnite’s biggest fans have never paid a penny despite spending hours and hours playing it, yet it’s managed to become one of the biggest and most financially successful titles in gaming. Ever.

Fortnite isn’t innovative with its gameplay, nor is it innovative in being free; mobile games in particular have used a free-to-play model for years. But Fortnite has taken the world by storm by refining those things and putting them with a fun, cartoony aesthetic that has widespread appeal, especially to younger players. For many kids, Fortnite has been their ticket into a brand-new hobby, and the importance of expanding gaming beyond where it was even a few years ago is immeasurable.

As with any successful title, other games have tried to imitate Fortnite’s success, and in some ways we can assign some degree of blame to Fortnite for making lootboxes and microtransactions more acceptable. However, it isn’t only this game’s fault that companies continue to pursue in-game monetisation!

Number 3: The Witcher 3 (2015)

With so much focus on multiplayer this generation, The Witcher 3 really stands out as a comparative rarity. It demonstrated clearly and unequivocally that there is a market for well-made, expansive single-player games at a time when many companies seemed to be abandoning them. It’s widely considered one of the best games of all-time, not just of the generation, and the success of The Witcher 3 did much to demonstrate to the industry that single-player games could still be critically and financially successful.

As I mentioned when I took a look at a few great games that I haven’t played, The Witcher 3 is on my list and I hope to eventually get to it. Single-player fantasy role-playing games are exactly my kind of thing, but I haven’t got around to this one yet! As a standout title that really boosted the medium, though, I can appreciate The Witcher 3′s success from afar.

Number 4: Grand Theft Auto V – online mode (2013)

Grand Theft Auto V has been a juggernaut this generation, having initially been released on the previous generation’s Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. For the last seven years it has seldom dropped out of the top ten bestselling games, which is an incredible achievement. The success is largely due to its online mode, which has made developers Rockstar an insane amount of money.

Competitive online gaming really isn’t my thing, but no list appreciating the generation’s finest should ignore Grand Theft Auto V’s multiplayer mode. Taking the beautifully-crafted world of Los Santos and opening it up to players for jobs and heists together has been a masterstroke on Rockstar’s part.

I was, however, a little disappointed to see that Rockstar simply plan on porting the game to the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5. I get that it’s been a phenomenally successful title this generation – but I had hoped for a new entry in the series (or a new title altogether) as the gaming world moves on. They see things differently, however, and given Grand Theft Auto V’s success and bustling online scene, maybe they’re right.

Number 5: Undertale (2015) and the whole indie scene

I chose Undertale as an example because it has been widely praised, but this entry also stands to represent titles like Dead Cells, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Donut County, Shovel Knight, and many more indie titles that have wowed audiences this generation. Making a game as an independent developer is a difficult and often expensive undertaking, yet many of these titles – including Undertale – have been fantastic and received critical acclaim.

There’s a perception that all indie games are pixel-art 2D platformers, and while there certainly are titles which fit that description there’s also much more going on in the indie scene. Some of these games go on to inspire whole sub-genres, and as we go into the new generation its a great thing that there are so many independent, smaller developers out there. It keeps the games scene interesting!

Disappointments and Disasters

This section looks at a handful of controversial, disappointing, or outright bad games which nevertheless impacted the games industry this generation. Not every innovation or change to the way games are made comes from success, and some titles may be better-remembered for serving as bad examples than good games.

Number 1: Star Citizen (Unreleased)

How can a game that hasn’t even been released be one of the biggest disasters of the generation? Simple: it’s become the textbook example of how crowdfunding can go wrong in the gaming realm. Star Citizen’s troubled development began way back in 2012, before any of the current-gen systems launched. And it raked in millions of dollars in crowdfunding from eager gamers – only to miss release window after release window, while continuing to beg and scrounge money out of its remaining loyal fans.

At this point, in late 2020, the team behind Star Citizen have raised – and mostly spent – over $300 million. That’s an utterly insane amount of money for any video game, and if reports and rumours are to be believed, it’s still nowhere near complete. What happened with Star Citizen is basically this: a developer had a decent idea for a game, put together a small team, and began work. But as the crowdfunding campaign took off the developers began to promise more and more features, leading to more development time. More development time in turn meant they needed more money, which meant more crowdfunding, which meant more features were promised, and the whole thing has spiralled out of control to the point where the game is an overhyped undeliverable mess.

Star Citizen isn’t a “scam,” because I firmly believe there were good intentions behind it. But the developers needed someone competent to manage the project before it got unwieldy, and someone in charge to prevent it from ever getting so out of control. The idea of selling in-game content for an unreleased game is already pretty shady, but when some of that content can cost thousands of dollars I think someone has to step in and say that it isn’t acceptable. It’s still possible the game will see a release – one day – but even if it does it’s hard to imagine it will be anything less than underwhelming in the extreme for fans who’ve waited years and hyped it to oblivion.

Number 2: Star Wars Battlefront II (2017)

Battlefront II saw the bubbling lootbox controversy boil over. Though it’s been over three years since its 2017 launch, the ramifications of that are still being felt as jurisdictions across the world move to regulate or ban in-game gambling. Electronic Arts has, for years, pushed the envelope for what gamers will tolerate in terms of in-game monetisation. And with Battlefront II they finally pushed too hard and too far.

The game itself is perfectly playable today, but only because EA ripped out as much of the gambling as they could before it hit shelves. Battlefront II also had poor timing, causing controversy in the Star Wars fandom at a time when The Last Jedi was already proving hugely divisive. The combination of the poorly-received game and film meant that Star Wars was in a dark place going into 2018.

Number 3: Mass Effect: Andromeda (2017) and Anthem (2019)

Oh, Bioware. How heroes fall! For a number of reasons that boil down to project mismanagement, both Mass Effect: Andromeda and Anthem were rush jobs, put together in months instead of years. And it showed. Andromeda was memed to death, and even though the worst of its bugs and visual glitches were fixed within days of launch by patches, the damage was done and the game’s reputation never recovered.

Anthem overpromised based on a trailer at E3 that was entirely fake. Players who did buy into the game found a half-finished and underwhelming live service experience, and promises of updates and more content weren’t enough to convince more than a few to stick around. As of late 2020, Anthem’s “roadmap” for further updates has been cancelled, and the game is essentially dead.

For a studio like Bioware, these failures feel so much worse because we know that they’re capable of producing some incredible games. Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and the first two parts of the Mass Effect trilogy are among my favourite role-playing games of all time, so to see the buggy overblown side-mission that was Andromeda and the live service failure that was Anthem is nothing less than a colossal disappointment. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for this once-great developer, however, with a Mass Effect trilogy remaster having been announced a couple of days ago.

Number 4: Fallout 76 (2018)

As above, a developer once revered for its amazing experiences churned out a buggy, underwhelming online multiplayer title. Fallout 76 came after years of declining quality of Bethesda’s own titles, which included port after port of Skyrim and little else. I could never get past the fact that this was a Fallout game with absolutely no non-player characters. The heart of any game like this is its story, and a story needs characters. Fallout 76 thus contained little more than a moderately pretty environment – one built on an ageing engine meaning even the game’s visuals were hardly spectacular.

After walking around, checking out the scenery, and battling a few monsters, there was literally nothing to do. The gunplay was also mediocre to poor, something the Fallout series’ VATS system had masked in previous titles built on the same engine. But with multiplayer there was no way to implement VATS properly, meaning the game’s shooting had to stand on its own… and it fell down.

The first of these points – the missing NPCs – was eventually addressed in an update. But Fallout 76 has been own goal after own goal from Bethesda, including crappy product tie-ins that got recalled, a $100 premium membership, and more besides. The game was a bug-riddled disappointment.

Number 5: Shenmue III (2019)

Shenmue III is one of the biggest disappointments to me personally. Other titles in this section have their problems, but when it comes to my most-anticipated games ever, Shenmue III had been at the top of the list since 2001. After a dedicated group of hardcore fans raised an incredible $7 million through a crowdfunding campaign, the only thing I expected from Shenmue III was that it would finally finish Ryo Hazuki’s story.

In 2001, Shenmue II ended on a cliffhanger, with Ryo’s quest for revenge incomplete – and having just taken an interesting turn. But the failure of the Dreamcast – and the game’s lacklustre sales – meant no sequel was forthcoming. Yu Suzuki, the game’s creator, had always said that the Shenmue saga was an ambitious project, and that’s to be commended, but while I can’t claim to speak for every Shenmue fan, really my only expectation going into Shenmue III was that it would bring the story to a conclusion. If there was too much story to tell in a project this size, then someone had to come in and make cuts to all of the unnecessary fluff to make it fit. For some inexplicable reason, that didn’t happen. Fans raised millions of dollars to end on another cliffhanger. Does Yu Suzuki seriously think he’ll raise millions more to make Shenmue IV and Shenmue V to keep telling this story?

And that’s why it’s such a disappointment. It had one objective as far as I was concerned: finish the story. Fans donated their own money to make that dream a reality, but the developers blew it. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance for a dead, failed series to come back to life and finish its ambitious story. I can’t get over the truly awful decision-making that meant it didn’t happen.

Games of the Generation

Now we come to my personal top ten. I played and loved all of these games this generation, and while there are many more that could have made the list, when I whittled it down these are the titles which made the final cut. These titles are not in any particular order, so this isn’t a ranked list. All ten titles are very different, and thus they’re all my Games of the Generation!

Number 1: Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Originally released for the Wii U in 2014, Mario Kart 8 has since reappeared – in “deluxe” form – on the Nintendo Switch. It isn’t particularly ground-breaking, simply refining and polishing the Mario Kart experience for the high-definition screens that became commonplace over the last decade. But that’s absolutely fine, because Mario Kart doesn’t need a radical overhaul; what keeps players coming back for race after race is that it’s pick-up-and-play fun.

The Switch version bundles the original game with its two DLC packs and adds a few new characters to the roster too. And that’s the way most players have experienced Mario Kart 8, since so few people owned a Wii U! It’s a shame that Nintendo chose to paywall its originally-free online multiplayer, and that decision deserves criticism as it’s awful to implement paid online features to a game that once enjoyed those same features for free.

Regardless, Mario Kart 8 is a lot of fun. Some will argue that the fun is best shared with friends, and though you could certainly make that claim I still find myself picking up the game for a quick race or two against the AI.

Number 2: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (2019)

I played through Jedi: Fallen Order earlier this year, and I had a wonderful time. In fact, I’d go so far as to call the game the best Star Wars experience I’ve had in a long time, far surpassing some recent film and television attempts from that franchise! Cal’s journey from the shipbreaking yards of Bracca to, well, spoilers, was truly exciting.

This kind of linear, story-focused game has fallen out of favour with many of the bigger games publishers this generation. The rush to make every game an online experience (with recurring monetisation) has unfortunately seen less of a focus on titles like Jedi: Fallen Order; the Star Wars brand saw only the two Battlefront games in the years before its release. However, the success of this title both critically and commercially has already led to a sequel being developed – and hopefully demonstrated once again that there’s life in these kind of games!

Though I did encounter a few bugs and other issues during my playthrough nothing spoilt the experience. There were some great voice acting performances, interesting and varied planets to visit, a couple of neat cameos by characters from the films, and truly beautiful visuals that really brought the setting to life and truly immersed me in a galaxy far, far away.

Number 3: South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014)

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of South Park. Its social commentary can be biting and funny, but sometimes it goes over-the-top to say the least! However, while I haven’t been a regular viewer of the series since I lived in the United States in the mid-2000s, the game South Park: The Stick of Truth managed to catch my attention early in the generation. I gave it a shot, and I’m glad I did!

The game’s visual style is practically identical to the television series, and that alone makes it interesting. Animated shows have been adapted as games many times, but rarely is the appearance so remarkably similar. I think that’s what first captured my attention, but what I found when I played the game for myself was a surprisingly fun role-playing experience.

Not every joke landed, and a few moments in The Stick of Truth were just plain silly. But as an authentic South Park experience that really feels like playing through an extended episode of the television series it’s something unique – or it was until a sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole, was released in 2017.

Number 4: Ori and the Blind Forest (2015)

Ori and the Blind Forest never pretends to be a AAA blockbuster. It’s relatively short, with an average playthough lasting around eight hours, but those hours are spent in a beautiful, artistic world. The levels are diverse, and are interesting and challenging in equal measure as protagonists Ori and Sein bid to save their forest home.

Words like “masterpiece” and “beautiful” are thrown around all too easily these days, but I genuinely feel that both apply to Ori and the Blind Forest. For a game about spirits and sprites it’s surprisingly emotional too.

In a generation where Microsoft and Xbox lagged well behind Sony in terms of the quality of their exclusive games, Ori and the Blind Forest was a rare win. It’s since been followed up by Ori and the Will of the Wisps, a sequel which builds on everything the first game got right. Both titles are available on Xbox Game Pass, and are well worth a play for anyone who likes 2D platformers.

Number 5: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)

As with Jedi: Fallen Order above, Uncharted 4 is a linear, story-focused game. This generation has been dominated by sequels, and Uncharted 4 brings to a close the tale of Nathan Drake which began on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. What I love about the series is that it feels like a combination of Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, setting up a mythical-historical mystery for Drake and his comrades to uncover.

The first three games in the series were fantastic, but Uncharted 4 was a step up. Truly stunning visuals that pushed the PlayStation 4 to its limit really helped with immersion, and the swashbuckling story was perfectly-paced and well executed. Naughty Dog is a fine studio, and they refined this style of gameplay to perfection by the time of Uncharted 4‘s release.

The PlayStation 4 has had some amazing exclusive games this generation. Whether Uncharted 4 is the best of them will always be a matter of debate, but for me it has to be at or near the top of any such list.

Number 6: Minecraft (2011)

This one is a total cheat since Minecraft was released a full two years before any of the current-gen consoles. But it isn’t unfair to say that the game has enjoyed continued success this generation, which culminated in parent company Mojang being acquired by Microsoft in a deal reportedly worth $2.5 billion. That’s a lot of money for a game I initially dismissed as a scruffy-looking pixel graphics mud hut-builder!

Minecraft became the best-selling game of all-time, and a phenomenon that took the world by storm. It introduced the gaming hobby to millions of new players, including many children, and its ubiquity on practically every platform helped that immeasurably. Even nine years after its initial release the game is still being played and replayed over and over. The Minecraft brand has also been expanded upon, with titles like Minecraft: Story Mode and Minecraft Dungeons set in the same fictional world.

Where I had the most fun with Minecraft is in multiplayer with friends, starting from scratch and building whatever we wanted. I wouldn’t like to guess how many hours were lost digging tunnels, mining resources, and planning how to build a castle with a lava moat or a city in the sky.

Number 7: Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor (2014)

The world of Middle-Earth has been ripe for video game adaptations ever since The Lord of the Rings trilogy hit cinemas in the early 2000s, and Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor follows some truly outstanding games from years past. It took a step back from the books’ familiar characters, introducing players to Talion, an Aragorn-esque Ranger, as he takes the fight to Sauron.

What made Shadow of Mordor stand out mechanically as a video game was its revolutionary “nemesis” system. The game’s AI would track which Uruk commanders that Talion battled – and there were many! Those Uruk could not only become more powerful by killing the player, but defeating them was a key part of the gameplay experience. Orcs and Uruk could be promoted within Sauron’s army, and the aim of the game was to encounter and defeat them. Even now this gameplay mechanic is innovative, and it makes Shadow of Mordor a game with plenty of replay value.

Unfortunately the series was tainted somewhat by the in-game monetisation forced into its sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of War. While most of that has since been removed, the reputation of both games suffered. It’s a shame, because Shadow of Mordor is one of the best and most immersive experiences set in Tolkien’s world, and is still worth playing today.

Number 8: Super Mario Odyssey (2017)

Super Mario Odyssey took everything that had been great about 3D Mario games and condensed it into one phenomenal title. It dropped gimmicks from Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy and returned the series to a style much closer to the beloved Super Mario 64, which remains to this day one of my favourite games of all-time.

The level design was brilliant and incredibly varied, with water levels, desert levels, and even a voyage to the moon all on Mario’s agenda as he races to – once again – save Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. Hardly an innovative premise, you may say, but the fun of Super Mario Odyssey is in the gameplay rather than the story. There are very, very few titles about which I’d say something like that – so that should show you just how outstanding this game really is.

Despite being brand-new, Super Mario Odyssey gave me a hit of nostalgia and took me back to the mid-1990s when I played Super Mario 64 for the first time. It really does feel like an updated version of that classic game.

Number 9: Fall Guys (2020)

Fall Guys came out of nowhere this summer and surprised me! From the moment I heard the concept – jelly bean-like characters running obstacle courses in a video game homage to the likes of Total Wipeout – I knew I had to give it a try. And despite my general dislike of online multiplayer titles, what I found was a truly fun experience.

Fall Guys makes it easy to jump into game after game, and because each round is so short, even losing doesn’t feel that bad. The different ways in which people play makes every round unique, and while it certainly has its frustrating moments the core gameplay is plenty of fun. A cheating problem plagued the PC version for a while, but an update brought in anti-cheat software and that issue has now all but died out, restoring the fun!

If you’d asked me at the start of the year – or even in June – what my top ten games of the generation were likely to be, Fall Guys wouldn’t have even been on my radar. And when I was putting this list together I was wondering if including it would seem like recency bias; ignoring older games in favour of one I picked up just a few weeks ago. But looking at it on merit, I had a lot of fun with Fall Guys, and I’m happy to include this fun, casual title as one of my top games of this generation.

Number 10: Subnautica (2018)

In the wake of Minecraft’s success many games attempted to recreate its survival and building/crafting features. Many of these so-called “Minecraft clones” were crap, but one survival game that took the genre to wholly new places was Subnautica. The game has an interesting story as players find themselves crash-landing on a watery planet and must explore, collect resources, and build their way to freedom.

Subnautica is one of the few games even in modern times to really get its underwater world feeling right. Many games are notorious for bad underwater sections or levels, and when the whole game is based around swimming and moving underwater, this was something Subnautica couldn’t afford to screw up! The skill and attention to detail that went into this aspect of the game really is incredible.

The underwater setting also made the game feel like something genuinely different in a survival genre that was full of samey titles. Subnautica managed to be something unique as well as plenty of fun, and that combination is greatly appreciated.

So that’s it. A few of the best games of the generation – in my opinion, at least. There are many, many titles that could have made this list, including games I’ve played but forgotten all about, and games that I didn’t get around to yet.

This generation has offered up some truly amazing experiences, and even as we begin the transition to new consoles, there will be more to come. Cyberpunk 2077 and Halo Infinite are both due in the next few months, and there will be a number of other titles released before production fully shifts to the new machines over the next couple of years.

On a personal note, this has been a generation where, for a number of reasons, I found myself playing fewer games than I had in the past. A combination of health, ageing, work, and other factors are to blame – if indeed blame needs to be assigned. Despite that, I had fun with all four of this generation’s major home consoles, something I can say for the first time as a generation comes to a close!

I have no immediate plans to purchase an Xbox Series X or PlayStation 5, so there won’t be new console reviews coming on the website any time soon. But I can save you the trouble: both machines will be iterative improvements on their predecessors, offering things like faster load times, better controller battery life, and so on. It will be several years before we see any significant improvement in game design or graphics, simply because most upcoming titles are cross-generation and will continue to be limited by the requirements of this generation’s hardware.

Hopefully this has been a fun and interesting look back at some of the highs (and lows) of this generation on the day we mark the official beginning of the next one.

All titles listed above are the copyright of their respective studios, developers, and/or publishers. Some screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.

Let’s-a Play Luigi’s Mansion 3 – Part 1

Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers ahead for Luigi’s Manion 3.

It’s October, the spookiest month of the year! As we get nearer to Halloween, I thought it could be fun to play through a truly spooky game: Luigi’s Mansion 3 for Nintendo Switch. Perhaps appropriately, Luigi’s Mansion 3 was released on Halloween last year, but it’s taken me until now to pick up a copy! If you followed my playthrough of Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order this summer, this series of articles will be in a similar format. I’ll be writing up my time playing the game, illustrating the posts with screenshots, and at the end when I’ve completed it I’ll write a summary and give you my impressions.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is the first game in the series that I’ve played. The first Luigi’s Mansion debuted on the GameCube in 2001 (or 2002 here in the UK). I didn’t own a GameCube, so it wasn’t a title I got to play at that time, but I’ve heard positive things about the game and its Nintendo 3DS remake. The second instalment in the series, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, was also a 3DS title, released to coincide with Nintendo’s “Year of Luigi” promotional event in 2013. Interest in that title and the remake of the first entry led to the creation of Luigi’s Mansion 3 a few years later.

So that’s how the game came to be! Without further ado, let’s get started!

The title screen.

I was positively thrilled that, for the first time in a long time, a game I’d bought didn’t require any updates before I could get started! Instead the game booted straight to the main menu, from where I could select story mode and jump right into playing. A cute opening cinematic depicts Luigi, Mario, Princess Peach, and several Toads on a bus.

Luigi, fast asleep on the bus.

Luigi has a ghost-dog called Polterpup, who may be a returning character from one of the past games. That rounds out the group as they arrive at The Last Resort hotel for a holiday.

Polterpup and Luigi with their mysterious invitation.

Inside the lobby of the hotel I got my first moment of gameplay, as Luigi was able to walk around the lobby and investigate a couple of different things. I liked the old Mario theme that played when Luigi was in the vicinity of Mario. After interacting with everything in the area, Luigi checked into the hotel, at which point another cinematic played.

Mario and Luigi.

It turns out that Luigi had been invited to the hotel – along with his friends – by the owner, Hellen Gravely. She invites them all to check into their rooms, and they ride a lift that reminded me of the Disney World ride The Tower of Terror up to their floor. In fact, the creepy vibe of the hotel as a whole could be said to be reminiscent of that ride.

Hellen Gravely…
…and the Tower of Terror-esque lift.

Everyone retired to their own rooms, leaving Luigi alone with Polterpup. Exploring the room and bathroom yielded nothing significant, so the only thing left to do was go to bed. Luigi was awakened later that night by Princess Peach screaming!

Luigi woke up when he heard Princess Peach screaming.

The room was now shrouded in darkness with a mysterious mist or fog on the floor, and where there had been cute little hotel knick-knacks there was now nothing but spooky décor! Luigi looked in both Mario and Peach’s rooms, but they weren’t there. Both rooms did have signs that they’d recently been there; pizza boxes for Mario, a tea set for Peach.

Mario’s half-finished pizza.

After exiting Peach’s room, Luigi was confronted by Hellen Gravely. It turns out that she had befriended King Boo – who I believe was the main baddie in the earlier games – and he’d captured Peach, Mario, and the Toads. They’d been imprisoned in picture frames, which sounded kind of like the setup to Super Mario 64!

Hellen Gravely in her true form.

King Boo wanted to trap Luigi too, getting his revenge for being defeated in a past encounter. There was nothing to do but run! The hallway that led to Luigi’s room was the only way to go, and King Boo gave chase.

King Boo!

At the end of the hallway, Luigi had nowhere left to run. A convenient laundry chute offered him a last-ditch escape, and he dived in head first! This marked the end of the prologue, as we got the game’s opening title; the sunlit, appealing hotel changed to look dark and spooky! At the bottom of the laundry chute Polterpup woke up Luigi, and the game’s first level began.

The escape from King Boo.

Luigi collected his first coin – though what the coins do is unclear at this point – and followed Polterpup into the hotel’s car park. There he was directed to a parked car containing the Poltergust! This is the vacuum cleaner-weapon that debuted in earlier titles. Luigi will use it to suck up ghosts (I know how it sounds but that’s the best way to explain it!) It also has a powerful light that can paralyse ghosts.

The Poltergust.

Polterpup gave Luigi a quick tutorial on the weapon. It can be used to suck up ghosts, push them away with a “blow” function, shine a bright light, and create a shockwave. After confirming that I was happy with what I’d learnt it was time to press on.

Learning to use the Poltergust.

Going upstairs led back to the hotel lobby, and the first battle against spooky spirits! I was a little surprised to see that a single hit from a ghost was enough to lower Luigi’s health by a whopping twenty points! At that rate he’s only good for four or perhaps five hits, after which it’s surely game over. I’ll have to be careful!

Battling gosts in the hotel lobby.

The ghosts have locked Luigi in the hotel – presumably so King Boo can catch him – and after dispatching (or collecting?) them, I was free to explore the lobby once more.

The ghosts have sealed the way out!

Presumably this is the hotel’s “normal” state, and it was simply redressed to look more appealing to the gang when they arrived. Its current décor is much more ghostly; perfect for Halloween! There are even pumpkins.

Some Halloween decorations!

With the few ghosts gone, nobody else was present in the lobby. Luigi was able to get behind the counter and grab a shiny key – surely something that will come in handy in a title like this! There was also a large amount of money behind the counter, and Luigi went from having a handful of coins to over 1,000 in an instant. I wonder what he can spend them on?

Luigi grabs the key.

The key was obviously the important thing, as without it the door on the level above would not open. Luigi used the key to open it and unlock the next area.

Opening the door on the upper level.

A room in this area contained a portrait of a character that I vaguely recognised; it turns out this was one of the characters from one of the previous games. The professor who invented Luigi’s vacuum cleaner-weapon is trapped like Mario and co., and it’s up to Luigi to rescue them!

Luigi’s friend is trapped in a picture!

At this point, having completed the prologue, I had to get on with something else so I shut the game off. I think we’re going to have plenty of spooky fun between now and Halloween playing Luigi’s Mansion 3! The controls will take a little getting used to; there’s no direct camera control, and while the camera follows Luigi quite closely for the most part, that’s something I’m not used to in a third-person title. There’s also no jumping in the game, so it doesn’t look like we’re in for much platforming.

Though I could only spend around half an hour with the game on this first occasion, my first impressions of Luigi’s Mansion 3 are very positive, and I’m looking forward to pressing on deeper into The Last Resort hotel and battling spooky ghosts!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 is out now for Nintendo Switch. The Mario franchise – including the Luigi’s Mansion games – is the copyright of Nintendo. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.